Power Rankings: Hamlin, Stewart work wonders with 2, 3 finishes

by | CBSSports.com NASCAR Blogger

Lost in the hoopla surrounding Jimmie Johnson's Bojangles' Southern 500 win to give Hendrick Motorsports Sprint Cup victory number 200 were a pair of pretty impressive efforts in second and third place.

Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart may have trailed Johnson across the finish line at Darlington Raceway, but each turned in solid performances considering their circumstances.

Hamlin was fresh off dominating Friday night's Nationwide Series race before losing it in the closing laps to Joey Logano and forced to settle for second place.

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Joe Gibbs Racing was right back in the thick of battle in Saturday night's Cup headliner and in the mix for victory until a late race stop when he slid through his pit stall forcing a change in plans.

"We were planning on taking two that last stop, but I slid through the box, so (crew chief) Darian (Grubb) had to take four tires," Hamlin explained. "Took the lead away from us, second away from us, and at that point we were fifth or sixth, then we just had to battle back.

"Track position was so important tonight. Really proud of our effort. I think it's definitely a good run for our team. Two seconds, this weekend, this track, we'll take, even though we wish we had a win."

Stewart also dealt with challenges thrown his way in an attempt to score his first career Darlington win and did well just to notch a third-place finish.

A broken clutch and a fuel pressure problem hindered Stewart's Darlington night, but despite those issues, he still put on a charge and waged a fierce battle with Johnson for the lead at one point.

"I broke the clutch about 85 to go," said Stewart. "Came in the pits. They jacked it up, looked at it, figured out we could keep going. But we came in, because we looked at it, took the option to come back in and top it off with fuel, just basically got the opportunity the next caution. When everybody came in, we got up to eighth, had two really good restarts after that that got us up to second. "Then coming to the green, we actually lost fuel pressure, with one to go, and that's why we were on the apron trying to get fuel to the pickups. Got it back, but then lost it again coming off four to the green. Coming down the front straightaway on the restart, it kind of laid down a little bit, that dropped us back to third."

Which is where he stayed until the checkered flag flew. But Stewart was still pleased with the end result.

"You know, considering the hurdles of the day, I'm pretty happy with a third-place run," he said.

And unlike last week at Talladega, Stewart did not lobby to turn Darlington into a Figure-8 track either.

1Brad Keselowski2
Took over the Chase lead by 20 points thanks to a sixth place finish and Jimmie Johnson?s misfortune. This is now the Penske Racing driver?s championship to lose.
2Jimmie Johnson1
Saw his seven point lead evaporate thanks to a cut tire and trip into the wall on Sunday. Johnson now must hope a similar such fate happens to Keselowski next week at Homestead to have any shot at a sixth title.
3Kyle Busch4
Nearly ran the table in Phoenix by leading all practices and taking the pole had he been able to win the race. But a poor decision on lane choice for a late restart cost Busch a shot at Victory Lane.
4Kasey Kahne5
Ending the year on a positive note but wasn?t able to match his Phoenix victory of last November. Still a solid day with a fourth place performance.
5Clint Bowyer3
Was the victim of Jeff Gordon?s revenge that completely eliminated Bowyer from championship contention. He wasn?t an angel in the turn of events but Bowyer definitely got the worst of the situation.
6Denny Hamlin8
Hamlin?s second place finish in Phoenix a welcome rebound from two weeks of disappointment for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. He?ll be a factor for a win next Sunday in Homestead.
7Kevin Harvick12
Snapped a 44-race winless drought with Sunday?s win ironically coming on the weekend when reports of his evacuation from Richard Childress Racing to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 broke out.
8Greg Biffle6
A decent day for ?The Biff? in Phoenix, who was able to dodge all the last lap craziness to bring home his Roush Fenway Racing Ford seventh.
9Joey Logano13
Minding his own business until getting swept up in the Gordon-Bowyer fight. Logano was on his way to a nice effort to follow up his ninth Nationwide Series win on Saturday.
10Ryan Newman14
Rough way to earn a fifth place finish as Newman was one of the unfortunate souls to get caught in the last lap crash on the main straightaway.
11Tony Stewart9
Not a god day at all for Smoke who spun late after making contact racing for position. A 19th place finish for Stewart.
12Matt Kenseth11
Will make the final Sprint Cup start of his career for Roush Fenway Racing next week at Homestead on the heels of a 14th place effort in Phoenix.
13Martin Truex Jr.10
His race was over nearly before it started with a blown engine. After a stellar regular season Truex Jr. has suffered mightily throughout the Chase.
14Carl Edwards15
An 11th place finish for Edwards as he brings to a close one of the most disappointing seasons in his career.

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